Oxford URNU deploys to Brest

On Sunday 8 Oct 17, HMS Smiter, HMS Ranger and HMS Blazer set sail for Brest, France. All 3 Ship's Companies, 5 YOs, 4 URNU Officer Cadets, Commander 1PBS and SOO were excited with the prospect of 2 days of tough physical challenges set by French Naval PTIs.

The aim of the week was to push our group of Royal Naval personnel out of their comfort zones, both mentally and physically, over a 36 hour period using a series of challenging and, sometimes, fun PT stances!

The training exercise is used regularly within the French Navy to help prepare their personnel for any situation that may occur at sea and in the line of duty, no matter how mentally or physically demanding.

Day one was split into 2 parts: a high ropes course that tested not only those with a fear of height, but every individual’s determination to overcome difficult obstacles while suspended over 10ft in the air.

The trip to Brest was challenging but rewarding, and thoroughly enjoyed by all involved.

Officer Cadet Emily Herbert

The second stance was an obstacle course consisting of net crawls, ladder climbs, monkey bars and lots of tyres. The first lap was run in pairs, the second in groups of seven while carrying either a casualty and stretcher or a very long rope, and the third and final lap was run as a whole team of 14 with all additional items to be carried.

Day 2 was even more intense. Starting the morning with a 5 meter jump off the harbour wall was a refreshing start to the day - this was followed by a stance in the swimming pool.

All the overalls, which had to be worn for every activity, were collected and thrown into the pool. Task one was to get dressed into the suit while in the water, a challenge many underestimated. With multiple new challenges being introduced while in the water, a total of 40 minutes were spent treading water before having to clamber in groups of 5 into a life raft and evacuate the pool.

The next stance involved the entire team dragging a large tyre up and down a slope, while 2 individuals scaled an almost vertical wall and ran a short distance before swapping out with 2 others until the entire group had run the route. This was repeated 3 times before stopping for lunch. Once everyone had recovered from the morning we set off for some more sea-based activities. We split into groups of 4 and had to paddle across the harbour in small boats.

When far from land, the PTIs made us get into the water and complete a series of challenges, for instance climbing over a floating platform – far more difficult than you would expect considering the weight of our sodden overalls. After a few more stances to complete the 2 day exercise we finished the final day with a chance to relax at a small cocktail party held in HMS Blazer.

Officer Cadet Emily Herbert, Oxford URNU, said: "The trip to Brest was challenging but rewarding, and thoroughly enjoyed by all involved. I would commend the trip to URNU members if we are luckily enough to be offered such an experience again."

Lieutenant Will Jones RN, Commanding Officer of the Oxford URNU, said: "The exercise was a fantastic opportunity for the Officer Cadets to experience firsthand how a partner nation's Navy trains their personnel".

Oxford is one of 15 URNUs located across the UK offering opportunities to 750 undergraduates from the country’s leading universities.

The URNU's mission is: "To develop an understanding of the Naval Service in undergraduates, so that those who go into civilian employment are positive advocates thereof and to facilitate a Naval Career for those who choose one."

The URNU is a chance to experience military life without commitment and gain new skills applicable to all walks of life.

Words by: OCdt Emily Herbert, Oxford URNU